With every passing year, life’s increasing demands are forcing many parents and guardians to work longer hours.
The result is that the guidance and mentoring of young children is left to house maids and, later, teachers who do not really have a personal attachment to the children.
Yet experts argue that this is one of the times when children need their parents most because their early experiences have far-reaching and solidifying effects on the development of their brains and behaviour.
“Diverse experiences affect the architecture (i.e. wiring) of the brain, the expression of genes, and the biochemistry and physiology of the human body – all of which mediate our cognitive, emotional and social behaviours,” says a 2007 World Bank study, titled “Early Childhood Development: From Measurement to Action.”
“The developmental influences are particularly powerful during sensitive periods of brain maturation – that is, during the very early years of childhood.”
According to a social psychologist at the Department of Psychology in Makerere University, Mr Paul Nyende, when parents provide a favourable environment for their children to learn, they are offering the kind of inspiration that can spur the children towards trying to emulate – or even do better than – their parents.
“By taking a supportive role, you are also playing the part of a role model. Parents are always a child’s first role model,” he said. “The role model has a tremendous impact on the behaviour of a child and shaping of a person because a child observes and takes the personality of their role models.”
Due to the breakdown of the extended family, says Mr Nyende, parents now have to help with class work, offer emotional support and play with their children.
“There are not as many aunties, uncles and other family members to bring up the child,” he said.
Mr Johnson Kwesigabo, who was the second best A-Level student of 1982 and is currently the Secretary/General Counsel of the Electricity Regulatory Authority, adds that as children grow older, parents should carefully juggle guiding them and offering sufficient room for them to learn to make independent choices.
Mr Nyende says making the child overly dependent on the parents can backfire. “Parents need to give children independent minds and teach them to learn to make decisions early,” he said.
“Otherwise, when children are 20 years and above, some may continue to cling onto the parents to decide their careers and who they should marry, etc.”